There is an element of the public that buys into the specious "zero tolerance" laws that replace carefully crafted legislation with bumper sticker slogans.
It is the kind of thinking that gets high school students expelled for giving a friend an aspirin.
Federal marijuana laws fit the description of bumper-sticker justice.
This is not a plea for legalizing marijuana.
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Our purpose is more restrictive: We favor allowing people whose doctors certify that marijuana will ease their suffering be permitted to obtain medicinal marijuana and to grow it for personal use.
Washington citizens voted in laws legalizing the use of marijuana as a pain reliever and an appetite builder for people with diseases like terminal cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma.
The state has created a system under which groups of patients with such certifications would be allowed to grow marijuana in gardens for their own use.
The state allowed a six-month moratorium for the communities that needed them. Richland, Pasco and Kennewick have voted to take the time to study the questions, from oversight to zoning, that follow.
Cities can continue the moratoriums for six more months if more time is needed.
It's not unreasonable. The issue requires deep study. It should also require some rethinking by members of Congress on what has been a national "given" for decades.
We've had zero tolerance preached at us so long it feels sometimes like we're living on George Orwell's Animal Farm, where the sloganeers reached their zenith.
But while city officials may take up to a year to study this, we recommend they keep an eye on the calendar and their watches during this moratorium.
Every step in the process is a potential bottleneck. Those given the task of reviewing local policies should look at their watches and think, "People are hurting, and I may have part of the means to help them."
It's true that federal laws stand in the way of reform, but other cities in Washington and other states have taken on this role for their citizens.
The federal government's position is murky. Government prosecutors have cracked down on providers, but other actions suggest some level of tolerance.
The following is excerpted from a letter from the Department of Justice to U.S. attorneys in the field. (The Ogden memo refers to an October 2009 memorandum, issued by Deputy General David Ogden to federal prosecutors in states that approve the medical use of marijuana.)
"A number of states have enacted some form of legislation relating to the medical use of marijuana. Accordingly the Ogden memo reiterated to you that prosecution of significant traffickers in illegal drugs, including marijuana, remains a core priority, but advised that it is likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or their caregivers.
"The term 'caregiver' as used in the memorandum meant just that: Individuals providing care to individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses, not commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana."
But a subsequent memo by Ogden's successor emphasizes that the department opposes marijuana and that it does not allow for commercial or illegal marijuana operations.
For many years, the Herald has urged the availability of legal medical marijuana; indeed, we supported medical use of whatever drugs are found by the professional medical community to be effective.
We still do, and are gratified that the majority of the voters in the state agree.
Congress really ought to fix this mess. It deprives some very sick people of pain relief that they need desperately.
Laura Healy, of Green Hope Patient Network in Shoreline, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying she still doesn't know what her hoped-for medical marijuana operation will look like under the new law.
"I don't even think (Gov. Chris) Gregoire understands what she put in (the law)," Healy said. "She kind of left us with, 'OK, now what?' Now, we're trying to figure it all out. And it's a big mess."
So it is. But give the governor and our legislators credit for doing what they can.
The fault lies with members of Congress who would say anything to get elected, but who ignore human suffering because there are no votes to be gained.